Golf’s major season ends with the quest to crown the Champion golfer of the year, and Ollie fancies three players to run deep into the weekend.
Tradition has been done away with in two senses this year, firstly with the Open Championship assuming the role of anchor leg in the major rotation, rightly giving it pride of place given the prestigious and historic esteem in which the event is held by players and fans alike. Secondly, the addition of Royal Portrush as the venue, which sees the Open Championship return to Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951, when the course hosted as victorious Englishman Max Faulkner took home the princely sum of £300 for his two-shot victory.
This time around the victor will take home $1,935,000, though whether it’s another English winner remains to be seen. The US provided the first three major winners of the season, and you have to go back to 1982 since there was a US clean sweep in a calendar year.
The Open is perhaps the toughest to win for any American, given they are not naturally exposed to links type conditions on a regular basis but there will be plenty heading across the Pond with high hopes and even higher expectations.
Power Not Pre-Requisite For Portrush
The course looks to have been laid out beautifully for this week and given some fortune with the unpredictable nature of Irish weather, we should see it play to its strengths unlike the US Open at Pebble Beach where unusually placid conditions and conservative pin placements from the USGA ruined the challenge. As with most links tracks, the defences are primarily the terrain and the weather, with significant rolling hills requiring a focus on shots off unbalanced lies, plus numerous bunkers and fescue rough surrounding both fairways and greens punishing loose approach shots. Ultimately, it looks a true links test with experience is always a plus when it comes to this event year on year.
The par 71 track stretches out over 7300 yards, which is pretty middling length-wise by modern standards, but as always with links golf, course management will be more advantageous than sheer length so we’ll want a total driver who can avoid running up big numbers and who does so by keeping the ball in play. Francesco Molinari was victorious last year at Carnoustie as a result of his not dropping a shot over the weekend and that is a pretty decent template for how to be successful in Open Championships.
McIlroy The Man For Many
The betting is headed by local boy Rory McIlroy who famously shot a 61 around the course at the tender age of 16, and there will be plenty who look at his odds of 10.4 and feel that is a price worth getting involved with. It would be no shock whatsoever to see him victorious in front of his home fans, especially given an Open record which has seen him figure in the top 5 in each of his last four tries, and he is tough to leave out given he’s won twice already this season and leads the PGA Tour in strokes gained off the tee.
He’s one I may well look to side with if he starts slowly as I feel he could well come through the pack late to contend as he did last year when briefly tying the lead on the back nine on Sunday.
Next best in the market is major machine Brooks Koepka (13.0), who I am happy to swerve at the price, Dustin Johnson (19.5) who has a fairly average Open Championship record for his talent and who looks a touch out of form, and Jon Rahm (18.5) who is very much in form, loves Ireland and warrants a further look.
It’s then 26.0 (Tiger Woods) down to 71.0 (Matt Fitzpatrick) for the next 20 on the list, and recent major history indicates you can probably cut your list there if you’re looking for your winner.
Links Lines Point To Rahm
As mentioned, Jon Rahm has a phenomenal record in Ireland, twice winning the Irish Open including last week at Lahinch. I don’t wish to be drawn into the argument around players playing better in certain locations, but what is clear is that he is extremely comfortable playing links type golf and that he is in imperious form, playing the weekend at Lahinch in 126 (-14) to win by two. That improved a trending form line of T3-T2 since the US Open so there is no one in better form in world golf at this point.
He has been somewhat of an enigma in major championships of late, recording 4 top 10s and 3 missed cuts in his past 7 events, but his overall body of work is that of a man destined to win multiple majors.
Our friends at Datagolf posted a graphic on Twitter last week which showed his career trajectory (based on average finish) vs that of DJ, Spieth, Rory and Justin Thomas and he was behind only Rory at the same number of events played, demonstrating just how elite he truly is. This season he’s ranked 4th in strokes gained off the tee, 12th in total driving and 29th in bogey avoidance so ticks all the right boxes and I expect a very strong run from the man who is, in my view, the best player in the game without a major.
Stenson To Repeat Troon Trick
My next best selection is Swedish links specialist Henrik Stenson (35.0). The 2016 Champion Golfer of the Year memorably held off Phil Mickelson in an epic duel at Royal Troon, carding the joint lowest final round (63) for a major championship winner in the process. The win was the culmination of an Open Championship record which showed three previous top 3 finishes and he arrives this week in fine fettle, having started the season slowly. A tie for 4th at the Scottish Open last week was his third consecutive top 10 finish – a run that includes an 8th place finish at the Pebble Beach Links in the US Open – and you have to go back 10 events before you find a weekend he failed to play.
From a statistical perspective, Stenson leads the PGA Tour in strokes gained approach and ranks 27th in bogey avoidance so shapes up well for this test, and his propensity for hitting the three wood off the tee instead of the driver should prove more beneficial here than at many of the longer US tracks.
In a game which is becoming ever more dominated by the youngsters, Stenson’s course management and links experience should see him in contention yet again at the Open.
Don’t Give Up On Kuch
I backed Matt Kuchar at the US Open and he ended up finishing a disappointing 16th, having sat 6th at 36 holes but I’m going to give him another chance (possibly his last) as his game is perfectly suited to links golf as his previous Open Championship record shows. He was runner up when Jordan Spieth miraculously won his Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale in 2017, and followed that up with a top 10 at Carnoustie last year, demonstrating his affinity for coastal golf which is further supported by his win earlier this year at Waialae, home of the Sony Open.
He warmed up for this week with a 20th place at the Scottish Open to get his game in good order for Portrush so should be well acclimatised to conditions, though his game has been in good shape all season as he ranks 2nd in bogey avoidance, 10th in strokes gained approach and 22nd in total driving, all key performance indicators for us here.
Although he wouldn’t be the most popular winner from a personality perspective, it’s the wallet that matters and I’m certainly happy to get 51.0 about him besting the field.
- Jon Rahm, 3 points @ 18.5 (lay 5 points @ 4.0)
- Henrik Stenson, 1 point @ 35.0 (lay 3 points @ 8.0)
- Matt Kuchar, 1 point @ 51.0 (lay 5 points @ 8.0)